United States District Court, D. Maryland
10, 2016, Plaintiff Brenda Beckman petitioned this Court to
review the Social Security Administration's final
decision to deny her claim for Supplemental Security Income.
(ECF No. 1). I have considered the parties' cross-motions
for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 16, 17). I find that no
hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.
2016). This Court must uphold the decision of the Agency if
it is supported by substantial evidence and if the Agency
employed proper legal standards. See 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Craig v. Chater, 76
F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). Under that standard, I will
deny Plaintiff's motion, grant the Commissioner's
motion, and affirm the Commissioner's judgment pursuant
to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405. This letter
explains my rationale.
Beckman protectively filed a claim for Supplemental Security
Income (“SSI”) in August, 2006, alleging a
disability onset date of January 1, 2006. (Tr.
96-98). Her claim was denied initially and on
reconsideration. (Tr. 62-65, 67-68). A hearing was held on
November 20, 2008, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 20-57). Following the hearing, on
January 27, 2009, the ALJ determined that Ms. Beckman was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during
the relevant time frame. (Tr. 7-19). The Appeals Council
(“AC”) denied Ms. Beckman's request for
further review. (Tr. 1-5). However, on appeal, this Court
remanded the case for further consideration. (Tr. 433). A
second hearing was held on June 25, 2014. (Tr. 391-414).
Following that hearing, on October 9, 2014, the ALJ again
determined that Ms. Beckman was not disabled during the
relevant time frame. (Tr. 369-90). This time, the AC denied
Ms. Beckman's request for review, (Tr. 356-61), so the
ALJ's 2014 decision constitutes the final, reviewable
decision of the Agency.
found that Ms. Beckman suffered from the severe impairments
of “scoliosis, degenerative disc disease, mood
disorder, anxiety disorder, and somatoform disorder.”
(Tr. 375). Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that
Ms. Beckman retained the residual functional capacity
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b), which
generally involves lifting/carrying 20 pounds occasionally
and 10 pounds frequently, standing/walking about 6 hours, and
sitting about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. She cannot climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but can perform other postural
activities, such as balancing and stooping, on an occasional
basis. The claimant is able to perform multi-step tasks;
sustain concentration toward such tasks for 2hour segments
(or within customary work tolerances, with breaks); interact
as needed with coworkers, supervisors, and the public;
respond appropriately to change in a routine work setting.
(Tr. 378). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Ms.
Beckman could perform her past relevant work and that,
therefore, she was not disabled. (Tr. 385).
Beckman's sole argument on appeal is that the ALJ's
holding runs afoul of the Fourth Circuit's decision in
Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 638 (4th Cir.
2015). Pl. Mot. 3-7. I disagree. In
Mascio, the United States Court of Appeals for the
Fourth Circuit determined that remand was appropriate for
three distinct reasons, including the inadequacy of the
ALJ's evaluation of “moderate difficulties”
in concentration, persistence, or pace. Mascio, 780
F.3d at 638. At step three of the sequential evaluation, the
ALJ determines whether a claimant's impairments meet or
medically equal any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Listings 12.00 et.
seq., pertain to mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1 § 12.00. The relevant listings therein
consist of: (1) a brief statement describing a subject
disorder; (2) “paragraph A criteria, ” which
consists of a set of medical findings; and (3)
“paragraph B criteria, ” which consists of a set
of impairment-related functional limitations. Id. at
§ 12.00(A). If both the paragraph A criteria and the
paragraph B criteria are satisfied, the ALJ will determine
that the claimant meets the listed impairment. Id.
B consists of four broad functional areas: (1) activities of
daily living; (2) social functioning; (3) concentration,
persistence, or pace; and (4) episodes of decompensation. The
ALJ employs the “special technique” to rate a
claimant's degree of limitation in each area, based on
the extent to which the claimant's impairment
“interferes with [the claimant's] ability to
function independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a
sustained basis.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1620a(c)(2). The
ALJ uses a five-point scale to rate a claimant's degree
of limitation in the first three areas: none, mild, moderate,
marked, or extreme. Id. at § 404.1620a(c)(4).
In order to satisfy paragraph B, a claimant must exhibit
either “marked” limitations in two of the first
three areas, or “marked” limitation in one of the
first three areas with repeated episodes of decompensation.
See, e.g., 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P,
App. 1 § 12.02. Marked limitations “may arise when
several activities or functions are impaired, or even when
only one is impaired, as long as the degree of limitation is
such as to interfere seriously with [the claimant's]
ability to function.” Id. at § 12.00(C).
functional area of “concentration, persistence, or pace
refers to the ability to sustain focused attention and
concentration sufficiently long to permit the timely and
appropriate completion of tasks commonly found in work
settings.” Id. at § 12.00(C)(3). Social
Security regulations do not define limitations in
concentration, persistence, or pace “by a specific
number of tasks that [a claimant is] unable to
complete.” Id. The regulations, however, offer
little guidance on the meaning of “moderate”
Fourth Circuit remanded Mascio because the
hypothetical the ALJ posed to the VE - and the corresponding
RFC assessment - did not include any mental limitations other
than unskilled work, despite the fact that, at step three of
the sequential evaluation, the ALJ determined that the
claimant had moderate difficulties in maintaining
concentration, persistence, or pace. Mascio, 780
F.3d at 637-38. The Fourth Circuit specifically held that it
“agree[s] with other circuits that an ALJ does not
account for a claimant's limitations in concentration,
persistence, and pace by restricting the hypothetical
question to simple, routine tasks or unskilled work.”
Id. at 638 (quoting Winschel v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1180
(11th Cir. 2011)) (internal quotation marks omitted). In so
holding, the Fourth Circuit emphasized the distinction
between the ability to perform simple tasks and the ability
to stay on task, stating that “[o]nly the latter
limitation would account for a claimant's limitation in
concentration, persistence, or pace.” Id. Even
so, the Fourth Circuit noted that the ALJ's error might
have been cured by an explanation as to why the
claimant's moderate difficulties in concentration,
persistence, or pace did not translate into a limitation in
the claimant's RFC. Id.
instant case, the ALJ found Ms. Beckman to have “no
more than moderate” difficulties maintaining
concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 377-78). In making
this finding, the ALJ stated that Ms. Beckman “alleged
in her Function Report that she needed reminders to take
medication and attend to personal care, and that she had
difficulty with attention, finishing what she started, and
following instructions.” Id. Additionally,
unlike in Mascio, the ALJ imposed a limitation in
the RFC assessment specifically designed to address Ms.
Beckman's moderate difficulties with concentration,
persistence, or pace. Specifically, the ALJ noted that
“[Ms. Beckman] is able to perform multi-step tasks,
” and can “sustain concentration toward such
tasks for 2-hour segments (or within customary work
tolerances, with breaks)[.]” (Tr. 378). These
restrictions adequately address Ms. Beckman's “no
more than moderate” difficulties in concentration,
persistence, or pace, and her ability to sustain work
throughout an eight-hour workday. See Baskerville v.
Colvin, No. 3:14CV423, 2015 WL 5786488, at *13-*14, n.6
(E.D. Va. Sept. 30, 2015) (RFC limitation providing that
claimant “could sustain concentration towards such
tasks for two-hour segments (or within customary work
tolerances with breaks)” was not error under
Mascio). This case differs from other cases in which
the ALJ provided for two-hour intervals without specific
discussion of a claimant's ability to sustain
concentration. Accordingly, under the analysis here, remand
under Mascio is unwarranted.
reasons set forth above, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment (ECF No. 16) is DENIED and Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 17) is GRANTED. The Clerk is
directed to CLOSE this case.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as